Given the circumstances, we’re going to be spending quite a bit of time with ourselves. We must temporarily forgo the joy of going outside and interacting with the people in our world. We do, however, have the opportunity to explore some uncharted territory between our ears and in our soul. If you’re willing to take the journey, there is a ‘knowing’ that is longing to be discovered.
Before screenwriters and novelists pen the first scene of a film or book, they are totally knowledgeable about at least one aspect of their story. They know everything about their protagonist, the hero. They understand what motivates her, what scares her, and what fills her with purpose. They even know things they may never use in the story. If it becomes necessary to include more details, however, the ‘backstory’ will be congruent with the character.
What do you know about the hero of the story that is your life? Do you totally know yourself?
It might sound trite, but we often dismiss the idea of fully understanding who we are. We seldom make the effort because we think we already know ourselves. We’re reluctant to take on the task of self-discovery because it sounds like a silly seminar exercise. Maybe we don’t explore the depths of our soul because we’re afraid of what we might find.
We seldom make the effort because we think we already know ourselves.
Know thyself is familiar to most as a Greek aphorism carved into the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The inscription, located on the wall in the forecourt of the temple, greeted guests visiting the Oracle of Delphi. Pythia, as she was commonly known, spoke for the god Apollo. Her guidance and prophecies made her the most powerful woman in the classical world.
As a timeless concept, know thyself also appears in Latin (temet nosce) on a plaque above the kitchen door of the Oracle in the Matrix films. As with the guests visiting ancient Delphi, Neo needs to first know himself before he will understand and be worthy of special guidance from the Oracle.
If the wisdom of self-knowledge has been around for ages, why don’t more people heed the time-honored advice? It could be because the journey is full of challenges, trials, and ordeals. Not to mention you’re likely to learn things that don’t sit well with you.
Not many people are brave enough to go inside and take on an inner quest. Of course, those folks are also on a hero’s journey whether they realize it or not — they’re just not actively engaged in the adventure like you are.
So, congratulations! Here’s what you win: When you know thyself, you know your limitations as well as where you excel. You’re able to see yourself in others and appreciate how others want to see themselves. You gain a sixth sense in evaluating how others might behave in certain circumstances, having firsthand experience of how the process works. You have a more accurate assessment of yourself and how others perceive you. You gain confidence in relationships, recognizing that everyone is an apprentice to life, just like you.
The unexamined life is not worth living.
Socrates may have been a tad dramatic when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Given his circumstances at the time, however, he was likely hoping to drive home a final point. Socrates made this declaration at his trial in Athens. He was charged with “corrupting the youth” and “failing to acknowledge the gods.” He was found guilty and sentenced to death by drinking the deadly poison of the hemlock plant.
Not examining things too deeply may seem less painful. One can take solace in being a follower; complying with directions and instructions, not having to think or make too many decisions. But if you are to be in charge of your life, you must ask questions, challenge the status quo, and take responsibility for who you are and the person you want to become.
Too dramatic? You decide.
To fully know yourself is a lifelong journey. Begin by looking inward and gradually go deeper. Spend quiet time with yourself (as corny as that sounds). Look at your essence — who you are when the masks and armor come off. Eavesdrop on what you might hear for the first time. Be still long enough to sense the relative silence. If you’re afraid of what you might see and hear, that’s all the more reason to look and listen.